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Creating communities of care: Sex estimation and mobility histories of adolescents buried in the cemetery of St. Mary Magdalen leprosarium (Winchester, England)



This study examines the biological sex and geographical origins of adolescents buried at the St Mary Magdalen leprosarium (Winchester, UK). The data are combined with archaeological and palaeopathological evidence to broaden the understanding of mobility and its relationship to leprosy and leprosaria in Medieval England.

Materials and Methods

Nineteen individuals (~10–25 at death) with skeletal lesions diagnostic of leprosy were analyzed using standard osteological methods. Amelogenin peptides were extracted from five individuals whose biological sex could not be assessed from macroscopic methods. Enamel samples were analyzed to produce 87Sr/86Sr and δ18O values to explore mobility histories.


Amelogenin peptides revealed three males and two females. Tooth enamel samples provided an 87Sr/86Sr ratio range from 0.7084 to 0.7103 (mean 0.7090, ±0.0012, 2σ). δ18OP values show a wide range of 15.6‰–19.3‰ (mean 17.8 ± 1.6‰ 2σ), with corresponding δ18ODW values ranging from −9.7‰ to −4.1‰ (mean −6.3 ± 2.4‰ 2σ).


Amelogenin peptide data reveal the presence of adolescent females with bone changes of leprosy, making them the youngest confirmed females with leprosy in the archaeological record. Results also show at least 12 adolescents were local, and seven were from further afield, including outside Britain. Since St. Mary Magdalen was a leprosarium, it is possible that these people traveled there specifically for care. Archaeological and palaeopathological data support the notion that care was provided at this facility and that leprosy stigma, as we understand it today, may not have existed in this time and place.

More information

Journal Article
Filipek KL
Roberts CA
Montgomery J
Gowland RL
Moore J
Tucker K
Evans JA